A few weeks ago my self and Mark headed down to Austin to interview some possible missionary interns at Concordia University. We had meetings set up early Tuesday morning, so we decided to bite the bullet, get down there on Monday night and hang out on the world famous “Live Music Capitol of the World”, Sixth Street. Tough life I know. The weather was beautiful. I felt like I was back in California, minus the beach and add some southern charm (I don’t know if southern charm really exists in Austin, anyway…).
We found a little rooftop bar right around sunset. We were out a little early for the usual Austin crowd so the bar was empty. Mark and I ordered some beers and got a nice relaxing spot on the rooftop. We were talking mission and dreaming about how God is leading us in the future as a missionary training hub.
Then our bar tender decided to come sit with us since we were the only customers in the entire joint. She was very friendly and very talkative. She just grabbed a chair and started talking our ears off. We will call her Miami. Her and her husband had moved to Austin from Miami (hence her name for this blog) about a year ago. She was telling us about the differences between Miami and Austin, the biggest being the beaches. We both reminisced about the ocean and sandy beaches. I asked her why she liked bar tending; she had been doing it for over ten years. She said she loved meeting new people, like us, and she loved getting people drunk!
As we talked with Miami, it was very clear that she was not interested in Jesus or any kind of church, or religion for that matter. She was a very sweet and loving girl, but Jesus was not a part of her life. As we listened to her stories more she finally paused and asked what Mark and I did for a living…
This is where it always gets interesting… when someone just got done telling you about their crazy party stories and then ask what you do. We both smiled and looked at each other then her and smiled some more. We sheepishly said ,“ We are missionaries, I mean pastors, I mean, missionaries in America, ummm.” Then I said, “I play music in our church.” Mark then said we were in Austin to interview some students to be American Missionaries for Jesus. She smiled then laughed and said, “You aren’t kidding are you?” I wish you could have seen her face, and our faces for that matter. She thought that was cool then asked us a very interesting question. She said, “Why do you believe what you believe about God and Jesus.”
What?! God, could not have thrown up a bigger soft ball. Then I though, “Crap, what do I say?” When most people hear what I do they smile and then carry on with a new subject. She didn’t. She didn’t even ask about what I do for the church or why I do it.
She asked WHY I believe in Jesus.
We had two paths we could have taken. I could have busted out my Bible app and explained to her why I am sinful, and why she is sinful, and why she deserves to die and burn in Hell and then explained the doctrine of substitutionary atonement to her. My other option was to tell her why I, me Anthony a real person, believes in Jesus. She didn’t ask me to prove to her why Jesus is the way. She asked me to tell her why I believe what I do. Honestly, giving her some verses and theology would have been way easier. That didn’t require me to be vulnerable with her and let her into my life.
But, thanks to the Holy Spirit I was able to share my simple, un-amazing story with her. I was able to share how I hated Jesus for sixteen years, and then through the course of people simply loving me because Jesus loved them, I couldn’t help but believe he was who he said he was. She smiled and said “that is really cool.” She was actually listening. Then she went and got us some more beers.
We swung by the bar later that night and said hi. I would like to tell you we baptized her and now she is spending all her time in a church with other cool Christians in Austin. We didn’t. All we did was share our story with someone who asked about Jesus.
1 Peter 3:15 says, “but in your hearts honor Christ the Lord as holy, always being prepared to make a defense to anyone who asks you for a reason for the hope that is in you; yet do it with gentleness and respect.”
I think in the west we have gotten this totally wrong. We have taught our people to go out and find people who don’t believe what we do and to respectfully tell them why what they believe is wrong and then, in love, give them the correct answer.
Miami asked me to share with her why I had hope in Jesus. She didn’t ask me to convince her to believe what I believed. She asked me to invite her into my life story and be vulnerable with her. She didn’t say those words, but I feel in my gut that is what the question meant. I don’t know why God set that little encounter up. If anything I hope she walked away from that encounter having a little more faith that not all Christians are annoying and some do tip well. Hopefully she walked away knowing that two guys actually enjoyed talking with her and hearing about her life.
Don’t get me wrong, I love theology and I believe correct doctrine is very, very important. But it is not were we need to start when we engage with people who do not follow Jesus. They could care less about our theology and the Bible. They are more interested with our story, what brought us to trust Jesus. They can’t argue against our life experiences. Just like we can’t argue with theirs.
At Water’s Edge we have kicked off new “Missionary Formation Groups.” As these groups begin to meet we stress the importance of each person’s story. This does two things. One, it makes people sit down and think about where God has brought them over the years. It helps us remember God’s grace in our lives. Two, it makes us really wrestle with why we believe what we believe. Especially those who have been raised in the church their entire lives. By developing our stories we are being faithful to 1 Peter 3:15.
So in short, there is power in your story. Everyone has one. Some have more highs and lows than others, but your story is unique to you and no one can take that away from you.
Do we need to know our Bibles? Yes. Is it important to know and understand the basic doctrines of our faith? Yes. But is that what will spread the Gospel to your neighbors and the bar tenders in Austin, or your co-workers? Probably not. I believe God will use you and your story first.